When his professor at the University of California, Berkeley tried to convince the class that Jesus Christ is not real, Kyle Harmon knew he had to leave.
His childhood dream school quickly turned into a nightmare.
Harmon signed a mutual release agreement with Cal’s football team for various reasons last August.
However, letting this opportunity slip away was not easy. Harmon said his departure from Cal was more devastating than the death of his father as a teenager.
“I went from a hero to a zero really quick,” Harmon said.
He fell into the temptation of college’s social experience and said he was surrounded by negative influences in Berkeley. He lost his drive and it showed at practices — which is why head coach Justin Wilcox agreed it was best for the linebacker to part ways with the team per Harmon’s request.
However, Harmon felt his decision was blurred by fear. He attempted to rejoin the team days later, but was rejected by Wilcox.
“I was embarrassed to leave the house. I was embarrassed to go out to eat,” Harmon said. “People I thought were my friends — thought they were for me — looked at me differently.”
This was not the same, focused, 4.0-GPA-achieving role model who coaches knew in high school.
Within 10 months, he went from leading Freedom High School (Oakley, California) toward its first-ever undefeated regular season to being left out of the NCAA.
Prior to receiving a scholarship from Cal, Harmon was verbally committed to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.
After one summer in Berkeley, the two-time All-State linebacker was about head to Central California before San Jose State head coach Brent Brennan jumped on an opportunity.
“He was a guy, when we got hired here, that we tried to recruit right away,” Brennan said. “We knew what a physical, dynamic playmaker he was. Then he signed with Cal, [but] when that thing started to change for him, it all depended on how our numbers fit, [but] we knew we wanted him here.”
When Harmon was 14 years old, his dad passed away from a hereditary heart disease. Despite his young age, Harmon got a tattoo on his left forearm to honor his father, Kevin.
Kevin Harmon played football at Weber State, and just like his father, Kyle Harmon was determined to play Division-I college football too.
“We want to be that family for him,” Brennan said. “We want to be that place he feels really good about coming to work with everyday.”
Kyle Harmon broke a school record with 405 career tackles in three varsity seasons at Freedom. The linebacker also had 30.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and four interceptions. Additionally, he won league Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.
Although it might sound “ridiculous,” Harmon said he was “homesick” in Berkeley — which is only 36 miles from his hometown of Antioch. He didn’t know anyone and said all of his previous accomplishments went underappreciated.
However, at SJSU, Harmon is united with two players from his hometown: Dominic Fredrickson and Jamaar Hardy. One of his best friends, Kairee Robinson of De La Salle High School, signed a letter of intent to SJSU in February.
Harmon said his roller coaster path to SJSU was through God’s guidance and his humbling experiences were from God testing his strength.
“I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be and everyone here has shown a lot of love,” Harmon said. “I felt like Berkeley was a radical place and felt a lot of evil spirits.”
In the philosophy course he took over summer, Harmon said his professor told the class that Jesus Christ is for “the weak people” and that Harmon was “being brainwashed.” This was one of the biggest factors that influenced Harmon to leave Cal.
Since transferring to SJSU, Harmon said everything changed and he regained the focus and determination he had in high school. Brennan described Harmon as a “grinder” in the weight room and loves how he embraces the physicality of football.
“I think he can be an All-Conference football player,” Brennan said. “Now, there’s a lot of work, a lot of plays [and] a lot of time in the weight room between now and that moment.... [But] the way he goes about his business, his desire to be a great player is so high. He wants to be the best.”
Former SJSU linebacker Frank Ginda led the nation in tackles last season, but left with a year of eligibility remaining to play in the NFL — which leaves a job opening for the Spartans at middle linebacker. Harmon is willing to accept any role on the team, but hopes to capitalize on that vacancy.
“If [Ginda] was still on the team, I would be as hungry as I am now,” Harmon said. “I don’t care if he led the nation in tackles. Why can’t I?”